Social Exclusion, Bulimia, and Agency

According to Jock Young (1999), threats against immigrants are a particular form of Othering in late modern capitalism, a process of circumscribing or thwarting social citizenship that he describes as bulimic rather than as just exclusionary. Advanced capitalist societies culturally include yet socially exclude large sections of the population, particularly those from the lower classes and so-called ‘minorities’. This highly contradictory process is exhibited through a number of intersecting dynamics:

  • (i) the pushes and pulls ofthe global political economy with its restructuring of work and cross-national labour markets, irrational rewards system, increase in relative deprivation, and sharpening of class divisions;
  • (ii) the evolution of the social control industry with its expansion of gulags, laws, surveillance systems, constraints on civil and democratic liberties, and their vindictive applications;
  • (iii) the role of Othering as a form of social exclusion and stigmatization; and
  • (iv) the porous and fluid nature of all physical, social, and cultural borders.

Together, these processes make it difficult for individuals to formulate a coherent sense of self, leading to a ubiquitous condition of ‘ontological insecurity’. Based on a set of beliefs about the pathological nature of criminals, and other socially constructed human pollutants, and buoyed by an economic commitment to a free market mythos, a brave new world of governance through crime and fear has emerged (Simon 2007). In this world the state must take pre-emptive action and exact extreme punishments to ensure that risks to the good, the pure, and the healthy never materialize (Douglas 1966). The deportee is a perfect example of the bulimic subject/object, the dehumanized outcome of three conjoining moral crusades: the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, and the war on the immigrant (Kanstroom 2007).

However, is it all such one-way social control traffic? Both theoretically and empirically it is important to locate agency in these chaotic and contradictory processes and not to relinquish the presence of social and political will to obsessions with the indices of social order or received wisdoms about social reproduction (Bauman 2004). Acknowledging the possibility of agency, however attenuated, helps to underscore and articulate the tensions in the dialectic rather than simply emphasize the delineation of opposites, or what Young calls ‘the binary’ (Young 2007: 18). In other words, we need to (re)consider the many overt and covert acts of individual and collective defiance performed by immigrants, mindful that such actions and vocabularies of motive (Mills 1940) contrast with the tropes of adaptation and acculturation found in much of the assimilationist literature (Ngai 2004) as well as with a criminological literature that sees a world of good and bad immigrants outside the lived contradictions of culture and the state.[1]

In the following we address these issues in describing and analysing key aspects of the bulimic process as it is lived, felt, and experienced by deportees. Through their complex and often opaque histories those men and women reveal a layered and often contradictory life course as neo-colonial subjects. Thrice removed—from their original homeland, from US civil society, and from the US sovereign state— and multiply punished for their original transgression, they are incarcerated again for the same crime in immigration detention camps before enduring stigmatization, discrimination, and social exclusion on being repatriated to the Dominican Republic (Brotherton and Barrios 2009).

  • [1] Hence both old and new Chicago Schools see immigrants remarkably free of punitive stateinterventions with little attention paid to complex lived, hybridized, and often criminalized immigrant(sub)cultures, or the opportunity structures of closely knit formal and informal economies in certainimmigrant communities.
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